Last weekend I was a mentor at a Product Forge hackathon. Product Forge hackathons bring together designers, developers and entrepreneurs over 3 days to develop new ideas, overcome challenges and make new connections. Professionals, students, graduates and freelancers formed small cross-functional teams to to look at the topic of libraries and to consider what the libraries of the future might be. They worked on a product prototype over the 3 days with support from industry experts at the Scottish Libraries and Information Council and the Carnegie UK Trust. In the past, hacks for public services haven’t always worked as well as they might have because there were no strong links between practitioners, technologists and creatives. Essentially you’d have a room full of super talented makers with no insight into the real gnarly problems out there in services. Until this year with Product Forge’s dedicated support and method of organising hacks for public services (start with the service then organise the makers) my benchmark for a hack was the NHS Hack Scotland weekend back in the heady days of 2013. Between then and now I had been a little concerned about public sector hack fatigue because you couldn’t throw a rock in Scotland’s central belt without hitting a hack (or indeed a ‘hack’ or ‘jam‘) and I was hearing from some folk in the tech community at least that it was starting to just feel like being asked to work for free. And that’s not a good feeling. Anyway, Product Forge is where it’s at and I hope more public services (I include charities and social enterprises in that term) will approach Product Forge if they need help getting a hack together. Here are some of my reflections from the Future Libraries hack. I’m going high level here. If you want details about the event overall, check out this short film of the highlights.
Discussion about what is digital exclusion, skill and literacy really is
Really great interaction between library staff and participants
A seemingly wacky set of digital activities and assets in libraries
I asked one librarian what he would change first if he had a boat load of money and it could only be spent improving his library. He said, ‘It’s such a small thing but I’d put in the ability for people to access wireless printing.’ He told me a story about all the people who come to print documents from their mobile devices and having to tell them they can only print by logging into a terminal. On the face of it this kind of situation seems nuts when held up against the roll out of 3D printers in every Scottish library service. While the aim of 3D printers and makerspaces in libraries is to appeal to new audiences, it would be cool to know that the more basic needs of existing audiences are also priorities. The latest episode of the Freakonomics podcast, In Praise of Maintenance, asks ‘Has our culture’s obsession with innovation led us to neglect the fact that things also need to be taken care of?’ It is a must listen for those of us grappling with modernising and future proofing public services.